Thread for Games 142, 143 / Cubs @ Reds

Update: We decided to try the losing thing all over again. A brutal, brutal, brutal 9th inning made possible by Kerry Wood's lack of control, Ronny Cedeno's inability to field a ground ball, and the offense's inability to take advantage of the myriad opportunities it had to crush a horrible team.

Good news— and nearly got themselves perfect-gamed by Chris Young of the Padres, thus ending a 2-5 homestand which included a four-game split with San Diego. What's more galling: splitting four with the Padres at home or losing two of three to the Reds in Cincinnati? (There appeared to be so many Cub fans at the Great American Ballpark this weekend, I think these games should go against our home record.)

Update: The losing streak is over; the winning streak has begun.

Jason Marquis gave up just two ER over 7 1/3 Saturday night, and , 14-7.

Micah Hoffpauir started in right field, and Dave van Dyck writes that former Rookie of the Year candidate Kosuke Fukudome may want to get used to .

If adversity really does build character, the Cubs are on their way to having a locker room full of Albert Schweitzers and Abraham Lincolns. Since August turned into September, the Cubbies, losers of six in a row for the first time since last June, are hitting .228 and the pitchers have a cumulative 6.32 ERA.

Jason Marquis (9-8, 4.46; first appearance vs. Reds in '08) vs. Johnny Cueto (8-12, 4.65; 1-2, 3.66 vs. Cubs in '08)

Against the Astros last time out, Marquis whiffed a season-high 8 and allowed just 2 ER and 5 hits over 6 IP, though he took a loss. Cueto makes his first start since 8/24, when he suffered an elbow strain. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the 22-year-old Cueto is about to break his personal professional high for innings pitched in a season (155 IP so far against a previous high of 161.1 last year as he rose from 'A' ball to Triple-A).

Sean Marshall (3-4, 4.03; 0-0, 6.00 in 3 IP vs. Reds in '08) vs. Aaron Harang (4-15, 4.24; 0-3, 7.27 vs. Cubs in '08)

Young Marshall fills in once again for Carlos Zambrano after the lefty had a bumpy 5 1/3-inning go last week against the Phillies (9 hits and 5 ER). Harang is 1-4 since his own visit to the Disabled List with forearm problems, but has a 2.84 ERA over his last three outings.




i hope we see a extra leftie in the lineup tonite and i dont mean d. ward fukadome fontenot hoffpauer edmonds i am all for lee and soriano sitting on the bench maybe right next to gerald perry.

good call with soriano and lee sitting.

how bout this lineup theriot fontenot hoffpauer ramirez soto edmonds johnson fukadome lets shake things up a little

this is Lou's lineup: Sori/Riot/DLee/ARam/Soto/Hoffpauir (RF)/DeRosa (2B)/Johnson/Marquis vs. Dustbuster's "the ex-cub factor" lineup: Dickerson/Keppinger/Phillips/Votto/Encarnacion/Bruce/Patterson/Bako/Cueto

Brandon Webb crushed again vs Dodgers...the Dodgers won 7-2,so the Snakes are in 2nd place. 5.2 IP, 5H, 7 ER, 7R, 6 BB, 6 K, 1 HR (Manny being Manny) and Randy Johnson has been scratched for his start on Sunday vs Dodgers due to shoulder fatigue.

Webb has given up 19 runs in his last 13.2 IP. Doing his best to give away the Cy Young.

DLee gets a double in the first to celebrate his 33rd birthday, replay shows it was a gift from the third base ump!

I really enjoy seeing Theriot hit solid singles after both Soriano Bombs.

Soriano putting the damn team on his shoulders...ok lets finish it off and get back on track...I'm no big fan of Marshall but Harang has been simply awful this year, we should be able to win tommorrow.

I'm of the belief that Harang is due to pitch well against the Cubs. He's always been pretty tough against the Cubs except for this year.

good thing lou did not take my call about lineup soriano is killing it and should have one more ab i still cannot believe all those lefties on bench vs. a right hander.

for those watching on Comcast telecast, it's been fun watching Brenly calling signs from the pitcher all night, 7th inning Marquis changeup, and 6th inning Bako call for pitchout and the old fake 3rd/1st by the pitcher...he even gave details about the hook (index,little fingers) and shaking that is the 1st/3rd...a fist is a pitchout. Fun also Marquis sucks (just kidding)...MAJOR KUDO's Jason. This was so very important to pitch well in Sept...not to mention hitting a HR in the 8th!

Jason F-ing Marquis baby!!!

back to padding their run differential DLee 3 hits on his birthday. Save some runs for tomorrow fellas.

After losing 8 in a row and seemingly out of it, Dodgers turn it around and take the division lead away from Arizona.

Winning is fun.

Dear Michael Wuertz - You suck. Very very badly. Go Away, Cubs Fans

although I really don't like the walks by our bullpen with 10 and 9 run leads. pitchers behind against 9 of 10 batters so far in 8th and 9th.

Wuertz + Smardzija = 0.0IP, 6R, 3H, 2BB, HBP...with a 9 run lead. kinda leaves a bitter taste.

Lumping Wuertz and Samardzija together is sort of nonsensical. Wuertz is only going to pitch in games where the Cubs are way behind or way ahead. He's not going to affect the outcome of many games. As for Samardzija, I think he's the one to worry about. He's gone through absolutely no adversity through his career so far, but last night, Paul Bako almost took him out of the park. I'm curious to see how he recovers.

Oswalt pitched a 1 hit complete game shutout vs Rockies in some of the streak was due to that buzzsaw ...hope we don't see him next weekend (if we do, it will be friday night)

I have no idea why some fans are shocked –- shocked, I say -- that Roy Oswalt is a good pitcher. He's been one of the best pitchers in baseball for years.

Well let's hope Soriano continues to be on a homer hot streak, just like he was in September of last season. He definitely ignites the offense like nobody else can.

It's just my opinion, but if Soriano hits three home runs every game for the rest of the year, I think the offense will be just fine.

If Soriano doesn't hit three home runs tonight we're still playing.

Your point?

i think wuertz is gonna be right behind howry on the pecking order lou was not happy if i as lou i would have went to mound and told wuertz thats why you spent 2 months at iowa. and why you wont be here next year. lou plays fontenot just enough seems like he always gets a hit fontenot has been are cleanup hitter a few times recently, you can only hope to slow him down.

Well I played "Go Cubs Go" even though that song grates on me a little bit, in thanks to the baseball gods.

18 hits, 4 walks and amazingly, no double plays. Scott Eyre would look pretty good in that bullpen right about now.

Back in '03 McFail lamented that if Guzman hadn't been hurt in August the Cubs would have brought him up and, replacing such notables as Veres and the six-fingered wonder, the Cubs would have made it to the World Series. Now, five years later, a Cub nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Angel Guzman. If the offense can get it going, he may be the key the last three weeks - the bridge from the starters to Marmol and Wood.

You guys hear about this? Piniella almost wound up in Pittsburgh for the Reds series.

Every time I need a little pick-me-up, I think of the choice expletives that surely were directed Sinatro's way during that little episode. Lou's probably got curses I ain't even heard yet.

HAAHAHA I saw that, very funny. Sort of like Bugs Bunny when they didn't make the right at Toledo. Go Cubs. Win the Series, and I will go pick up Lou and Sinatro.

I have no idea why some fans are shocked ------------ I don't think it's about him being a #1 pitcher, it's being shocked that he's back to full health again.

Lou's "thinking outside of the box" lineup: Soriano/Hoffpauir (RF)/DLee/ARam/Soto/DeRosa (2B)/Edmonds/Theriot/Marshall vs. Dusty's ex-Cub lineup being benched Dickerson/Keppinger/Phillips/Votto/Encarnacion/Bruce/Cabrera/Hanigan/Harang

looks like CPat called in a Dusty favor to get into today's lineup

wow...a totally empty parachat for a tie game in the 7th.

That's because everyone logs in, sees no one is there and logs out, like you. Marmold gives up a lot of homers.

the sori hop...he nearly gave away a free baserunner again today. neat. yesterday...bases loaded...2 out...runners going on contact... soriano runs, camps under the ball, jumps, goes off-center, and catches the ball wrist-crooked with about 2' of air under him from his hop. that's inexcusable, dangerous, and with all runners going on contact could have scored all 3 if missed. he's in no position to throw when he comes down off those hops...his momentum to the plate is halted (and in some cases he jumps backwards)...and it's getting to be just plain old bad baseball even when he does catch it. the reputation of your arm can only go so far when you can't/won't fundamentally catch a simple popup and be in position to continue the play afterwards.

Something like that is harder to get over than you think. I have a similar issue when I bowl and take free kicks and can't get rid of it no harder than I try. Plus Soriano got another kill today.

honestly...i could live with it if he wouldn't do it with men on. i could even live with him just not doing it with men in scoring position. that hop makes it practically impossible for him to move to RF and take advantage of his arm. i'd like to see him take care of this tick in his play before that becomes an option again. yes, he's probably a LF'r for at least another 2 years, but having the option to move him around based on his given skills would be nice. beyond that "future" stuff i really don't like the unnecessary motion and it's not like he's been doing this since age 15 or something. hard or not, i wish he's streamline his game to curtail it in more important situations.

Anyone at Parachat? I'm bored; football ain't helping, either.

You can always count on Ronny Cedeno to make things worse when it matters.

Looks like Cedeno just joined Howry and Wuertz in Lou's doghouse.

How isn't this Wood's fault? Sure, Cedeño made the error, but Wood loaded the bases against incredibly subpar hitters. When a closer doesn't have it, he doesn't have it; "Quick Hook" Piniella should have one in the ninth inning, too. Sigh. If tomorrow's an off day, we're fucked.

well the California Geological Society Fault-of-the-Game-MVP was a co-MVP of cedeno and wood, fwiw.

At least Cedeño had a go-ahead RBI in the game. The only thing Wood had to do was to throw a decent inning with a 2-run lead. I don't understand how you don't yank a pitcher after he looks awful for 15+ pitches.

I was thinking the same thing, but really after Marmol and Woody, the only viable option would be the Shark. Or maybe Guzman.

Shark who gave up a hit, a walk and a HBP to the three batters he faced Saturday? Not an option. Guzman who is still being babied because of his surgery and wouldn't have had time to warm up? Also not an option. Next you guys will be demanding that we start pinch hitting for Ramirez with Ward to face a righty from the bullpen.

Relax, dude. No one is demanding anything. It's called "thinking aloud" or putting forth possibilities as a mental exercise. It's just fun to consider who are possible guys that Lou could use if Woody totally implodes and needs a hand.

now i get to steam about this loss for 2 days...

That was a 9th inning of Cubbery if there every was one. I felt like I was watching a mid-90s game or something. At least the Brewers are going to lose as well...

As bad as that play was by Cedeno that should have ended the game----Wood just didn't do the job---two walks in the 9th will always lead to trouble---thats a tuff lost

It's games like this that make me wonder why I weast so much time, energy, and emotion on something I have absolutely no control over. I blame wood can't walk people in the 9th trying to be too cute...but this is reason #1 you bring your closer into non save situations if he hasn't pitched for 2-3 days.

Been there. Funny how we don't question the time, energy and emotion on something we have no control over when they win... Ideal is to enjoy the wins and not let the losses bother you. Much easier said than done.

Definitely limping to the finish here :(...gotta get going again. We are pretty much a lock for the wild card but it would be dissapointing to have a season like this has been for 5 months and not win the division.

Thank you Kerry Wood for the choke performance. Lou's gotta be loving the bullpen's performances of late. Why does this team suck so bad in September? Lou needs to bench Lee if he's serious about winning. This has been putrid. Completely Useless By.....

Lou needs to bench Lee if he's serious about winning. Huh? Derrek Lee over the lat 15 games (before today): .351/.439/.456 OPS: .895 That needs to be benched?

Can someone explain what happened on the Cedeno error?

sharp grounder on the SS side of second base, hit the edge of the grass and had a minor deflection from this but still hit Cedeno in the glove and squirted into short cf. Should have been a double play to end the game. No question it's an fact it reminded me of Alex Gonzalez in game 6 because it didn't end the game but at that point the game was lost (although AGon's grounder was in a different location).

In a ridiculous development (according to Yahoo), the Reds' scorer changed the scoring from an error to a double. Not that it matters, but, still. From the announcers to the manager to the official scorer -- Reds baseball is an embarassment.

this just in... Lou's ordered Matt Sinatro to drive Cedeno to St Louis.

Brewers do play 4 games vs Phillies next week (starting thursday), so the magic number (either division or wildcard) will drop 4 points total due to that series. Phils @ Milw 9/11-9/14

Not sure abou tthat. If the Phils and Brewers split, each magic number only goes down by 2.

it also depends if the Cards or Astros surpass the Phils in the loss column during tht time.

Maybe Lou will decide that now is the time to give his best reliever the job of closer. It's hard to dislodge a $48 million right fielder and to replace a closer in September, but maybe this is the good that will come from the Cubs' mini-swoon. In other news, the Iowa Cubs' suspect pitching has caught up with them and they are being eliminated in the semifinals this afternoon. Daytona, on the other hand, doesn't have much of a batting order but they have plenty of pitching--starters Hung-Wen Chen, Jay Jackson, Casey Coleman, relievers Schlitter, Jordan Latham, Blake Parker, among others--and lead 1-0 in the FSL finals.

"Maybe Lou will decide that now is the time to give his best reliever the job of closer." So we could have blown the game in the 7th instead of the 9th? For the Cubs relief set up to work, both Wood and Marmol need to pitch well. The order is irrelevent as far as I'm concerned.

Agreed. It would help to have a healthy Gaudin and an effective Howry, Wuertz, or... anyone.

In the 7th and 8th, you have your choice of pitchers. In the 9th, you have to give the ball to your closer. Make it Marmol. He's just better. He can pitch the last two innings once in a while. Wood is changing my mind on the importance of the closer. Three outs from a win, why give the ball to your #2 reliever? Bottom line, Wood has just never had good radar on his fastball.

Good God, this is stupid. 1. Marmol walked someone Sunday, and walks about twice as many per inning. 2. Marmol gives up home runs about 3 times as often as Wood. 3. Marmol pitched Saturday, and gave up another fucking home run, this one with the bases loaded to some slugger named Jolbert Cabrera with a .676 career OPS - after the homer. 4. Going into yesterday's game their ERA's were about 1 run from being the same, and had Cedeno made that play they still would be. 5. Wood hadn't pitched in four or five days, he was rusty. 6. Had Wood done the same thing in the 7th and 8th, we still would have lost. 7. Marmol came in with the tying run at the plate, which is a 'higher leverage' situation than nobody on anyway. But besides that, good plan.

Bottom line, Wood has just never had good radar on his fastball. Since when is having a "good radar" on a fastball the only thing that makes a good closer? And what is a "good radar." Because Wood has been throwing mid-90's, and at times faster, throughout the year.

"good radar" I also at first thought this was a reference to his velocity, which makes it a ridiculous statement. Good heat is one thing Wood has always had, along with a wicked slider. But then I thought maybe it was a reference to location? That makes a little more sense, although it is also a questionable statement, because Wood has at times had very good command, though he's been effectively wild.

By "good radar" I meant control. When Wood reaches back for something extra, he not infrequently throws a fastball that misses by a foot, like that 2-2 pitch to Javier Valentin. Valentin will swing at anything with two strikes on him--certainly anything that Marmol throws--but not a fastball that misses by a foot. Two more bad pitches (sliders) and Wood had walked Valentin, not an easy feat. I thought it had been obvious to everybody for a long time that Marmol was the ace of the bullpen. The only interesting question was whether the ace should close. But this is September, you've got to close the door on games like this.

Other things you have thought are obvious: The AA roster is more talented than the ML roster Koyie Hill adds 5 MPH to a pitcher's fastball OBP is overrated, even though the the top three teams in OBP are also the top three teams in runs scored.

By "good radar" I meant control. Kerry Wood: 17 BB, 7 HBP, 58 IP - .41 BB&HBP/IP Carlos Marmol: 37 BB, 6 HBP, 79 OP - .54 BB&HBP/IP You seriously think that Marmol has better control than Wood? Come on. If you are going to make a pro-Marmol argument, control is not the way to do it. And using one at-bat is also a horrible way to make a point about how Wood is worse than Marmol.

I was thinking more along the line of Leon Durham when I saw Cedeno's ole' of that DP grounder - the kid seems to get some bad brain cramps in crucial situations. But I agree that Woody should have been yanked - but in favor of exactly whom at this point?

I was listening to Pat & Ron at this point and Ron gave his best Brant Brown memorial "Oh No!!!" which I was also listening to live when it happened. It brought back some memories. Not good times.

well this sucks thought it was a win changed the channel then came back to game only to see reds celebrating well this is just gonna be a all around bull-s sunday if only he bears could win well like i said a bull shit sunday.

All on Cedeno -- Wood was rusty and had no slider -- routine play. He rushed it -- very definition of a choke. Lou choked as well -- should have walked the enxt hitter to laod the bases. Too nagry to think.

Similarly, I am too angry to type well.

The only thing worse than losing 2 of 3 to the hapless Reds is splitting at home (and damn near getting swept) with the pathetic Pods.

1. marshall deserved a better fate. 2. hard to blame this on wood, having only pitched once in a week. then again, hard to blame cedeno also, but he sure did look away from the ball at exactly the wrong moment. why not call it a draw? 3. any explanation for lou using soto in the day-after-the-night-game? soto's only offensive contribution was a hbp. will soto disappear in sept 2008 as theriot disappeared in sept 2007? 4. one can only hope harden does not have a rust problem the way wood did. if harden only goes 2 or 3 innnings in st louis in the first game of the series, the bullpen will be a mess from then through houston. especially with zambrano being a question mark. 5. the next 20 games should be quite the roller coaster ride. isn't this what we all wanted to begin with? is it the ride, or the destination? i'm perfectly willing to be greedy, and say "give me both".

That loss was a team effort.

On the bright side, if they would have hit a 3 run homer in the 9th, it would have been sudden and shocking. At least this way we had some time to warm up to the fact that the Cubs might not win the game even before it was over.

on other injury news... from the Astros mlb website: Oswalt is scheduled to start Thursday vs Pittsburgh (phew). The 'Strohs don't have a day off Monday or Thursday. Cub killer (especially in Houston)...Wandy Rodriguez is scheduled to make his next start on Friday vs. the Cubs, but it would not be surprising if he is scratched. Cassel is a candidate to start in Rodriguez's place. The Astros' injury bug spread to the starting rotation on Sunday, when left-hander Wandy Rodriguez left the game after one inning due to a strained right oblique muscle. It was the same injury that forced Rodriguez from his prior outing, but that one lasted 5 2/3 innings. This time, Rodriguez felt the pain right away, soon after he threw his first pitch to Rockies leadoff hitter Clint Barmes. "I felt it [while warming up] in the bullpen, but not too much," Rodriguez said. "When I faced the hitters, I tried to throw harder, and I felt it a lot." -------------- also Ty Wiggington is out 7-10 days sustaining a left groin strain on Saturday

I blame Soriano for this loss. He failed to hit his requisite 3 home runs.

Man Dempster sucks closing games. We need to make Wood the closer right away so I don't have to watch Chokester anymore.

OK -- ugly loss to a bad team and a horrible starting pitcher, injuries in the rotation and pen, the $48MM RF fix has been exposed by the league and will have to completely re-tool his swing next year, and the Cubs travel to trouble spots St. Louis and Houston this week. Time to find out if this team has any backbone.

The career of Jon Lieber may be over after he reported arm soreness and was sent home for the rest of the season. Lieber, 38, was 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA, mostly as a starter. He had made only one appearance since going on the disabled list July 18, giving up four runs in two innings Friday night in Cincinnati.

Normally a pitching team, Daytona has been pitching and hitting in the playoffs, so the other teams have no chance. Tonight, 9-1 at Fort Myers; yesterday, 5-1. Now Daytona goes home for three games, needing one win for the FSL championship. In the playoffs against Dunedin and Fort Myers, Darwin Barney is hitting .350, and five other guys--Tony Thomas, James Adduci, Blake Lalli, Steve Clevenger and Jonathan Mota--are hitting better than that. Jay Jackson pitched tonight and was lights-out, as usual, for five and two-thirds. I don't see anybody from high-A being called up to the Cubs this month, but there is a lot of young talent on this team.

In the playoffs against Dunedin and Fort Myers, Darwin Barney is hitting .350, and five other guys--Tony Thomas, James Adduci, Blake Lalli, Steve Clevenger and Jonathan Mota--are hitting better than that. Read up on sample sizes. It will be good for you. I don't see anybody from high-A being called up to the Cubs this month You think? Good thing we have someone around to tell us that no one from high-A will be called up to the big leagues this yea.r

Bad mood? I call shenanigans on the unnecessary sarcasm. I don't think VaPhil has confused the entire Daytona roster for top prospects. I thought he was just commenting on the hot streak.

You haven't been around for very long, have you? VA Phil has a tendency to always think that players in the minors are better than players in the majors.

I take it back based on the below comment. I withdraw my call of shenanigans.

Postseason is a small data sample, but it's still the postseason. It's not spring practice. ML teams in contention sometimes get a boost from young call-ups. The Cubs this year, not so much. They get Hoffpauir playing out of position in right field, and a defense-oriented catcher. Pitchers called up so far are Kevin Hart (7.97 ERA in 20.3 ML innings this year) and soon-to-be ex-Cub Michael Wuertz. The talent was pretty thin at Iowa and Tennessee this year. (Iowa won mostly with retreads.) Daytona is a bright spot. Maybe some of the talent will help the Cubs next Sept.

Postseason is a small data sample, but it's still the postseason. It's not spring practice. It doesn't matter. We are still talking about 15 plate appearances, which is a completely meaningless sample. Here are the more relevant season lines for they guys you mentioned: Darwin Barney: .262/.325/.357 OPS: 682 Tony Thomas: .266/.320/.400 OPS: 720 James Adduci: .290/.380/.365 OPS: 845 Blake Lalli: .343/.386/.519 OPS: 905 Steve Clevenger: .313/.393/.405 OPS: 798 Jonathan Mota: .260/.320/.362 OPS: 682 With a couple of exceptions, it is a bunch of mediocrity, at best. You only have 2 players with OBP above .325, and only one guy with an SLUG over .405. But go ahead and be impressed with 15 plate appearances or so.

The Cubs also have received boosts from Samardzija, Marshall, and Gallagher. Also, still enjoying having called up Fontenot and Marmol last year. The Cubs have just gotten their boosts prior to September. Who's left to give playing time? Daytona has been a bright spot, I'd agree. But when most of your minor league talent is on your major league roster, it's not surprising that AAA and AA haven't been great. The prospects that have remained in the minors (Pie, Colvin, Ascanio) are still there because they haven't performed well--Hendry has shown his willingness to call up guys who are playing well, hence our weak AAA and AA rosters.

in the history of baseball, you could probably count the number of players called up from Hi-A to the majors on one hand.

Not even if you're Antonio Alfonseca, but in the last 20 years I can't think of any. I know Gooden came skipped 2 levels and Pujols essentially did the same, but if you think there's a Gooden or Pujols on that Daytona roster 'crack head' is too mild a term. Jesus Christ, Gooden had 300 K's in 191 A+ innings. I can't even fathom someone doing that today.

Fuck that...

So, for Halloween this year, will Ronnie Cedeno be Brant Brown or Alex Gonzalez?

Oh, how I loathe Ronny Cedeno. I know his double gave the Cubs the lead, but...I still loathe him.

Ronny will have exactly 20 games to redeem himself, unless of course Lou locks him in the doghouse...

With Iowa eliminated, will Pie and anybody else be up on Tuesday?

Pat Listach is joining the coaching staff. Let's keep it at that, Hendry.

All the races are really close. Aside from the Angels who have a double digit lead, the next biggest lead in a division is the Cubs who are 4 up.

Must be getting pretty crowded in Lou's dog house -- he may need to add on another room, or they may have to start sleeping in shifts. Dodgers lose a whole bunch in a row, then immediately win a whole bunch in a row. Cubs, please take note. Odd sport, this. The defense has been pretty lousy during this nasty stretch -- Ramirez had a brutal few games, the Cedeno play yesterday, giving up a steal of home, etc. Time to focus and tighten up, gentlemen.

for the most part "lou's doghouse" seems to be a big myth made up by fans who assume lou is gonna lay down the law or something...butt patting, holding players out of the lineup for extended periods, screaming, whatever... fuku got a hits a couple days in a row and the story of him "having a talk" with fuku was the difference maker. there's a ton of reasons this makes little sense starting with "why not have this talk months ago," but that "story" and presumed outcome died its own quick death. tiz the cycle of the assumed responsibility and roles of the manager in the public eye... and yeah...the D has been f'n nasty during this stretch. even stuff that didn't go for errors could have been handled better. "the aram D game" was amazing.

Lots of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth here following an ugly loss in a tough stretch. That's good. This has been one of the few "Cub-like" stretches in an otherwise very alien, otherworldly season. This team had to get tested at some point and better now than in three or four weeks. The games are starting to really matter (not that they didn't up 'til this point, but still) and the pressure is intensifying and only truly special teams deal with it effectively. Is this team special? Do they have the collective stones to get through this and come out stronger? Or are they going to crap their pants at the first sign of pressure or a prolonged bad streak? That's what we're finding out. What's been missing from this team is that sense of angry togetherness that usually comes from doubters having their say. Well, the doubters are out in force now, so it may be time to shed the cool, confident demeanor of this year's club in favor of a slightly more angry, driven approach. And I'm not talking about the whiney, petulant, play-the-victim babies from Dusty's '04 team. I'll settle for the focused and steely-eyed take-no-prisoners cliche.

TJ- Interesting - who do you think the "steely-eyed cliche" would come from? It would seem phony from Soraino, Lee or Ramirez, who have never done so in the past. They never really did that during the dark September days in Florida last year, either.

Well, that might be part of the issue. This team is loaded with nice character guys, which makes it a great team to root for, but not necessarily a team that's built to win it all. I remember Indians players bemoaning the loss of Albert Belle, saying the team lost its sense of ruthlessness when he bolted. Of course they never won it all either. Character and chemistry are tough things to measure. Talent obviously drives most results, but everyone knows the most talented teams don't always win it all. Ditto for players. ARod and Bonds are arguably the two most talented players in the past couple of decades and they have zero rings between them. Sometimes it's the team that feels they have nothing to lose that ends up going all the way through ('03 Marlins, '06 Cardinals). Look at the Bears last night. They played free and easy, while the Colts looked tight and frazzled. Of course, no one would ever accuse the Bears of having too many nice character guys. So who would the guy(s) be to lead by example (either verbally or by performance) in the Cubs' clubhouse? The three guys you mention definitely are of the quiet leadership demeanor (and they also sphinctered up in the playoffs last year). Zambrano could be that guy, but who knows what the other players think of him. He may be too volatile. Dempster and Wood could fit the bill. They both seem to be on a mission this year. In terms of position players, Edmonds has been there before (even if he's new to the club) and, er, hmmm.... Reed Johnson has a swagger to him but has he ever even been in the post-season? Soto and Theriot are probably too young. DeRosa's an Ivy League guy and seems too bland and nice. Fukudome's been mired in a four-month slump. Who does that leave? A bunch of bench guys? Maybe DWard can conjure up the ghost of Randall Simon and Henry Blanco can convince each guy to grow a mullet as an homage to the '93 Phillies. Of course, that team ended its season by having one ex-Cub give up a walk-off to another ex-Cub. Oh crap. We're screwed.

After Belle left the Indians struggled to a first place finish, followed the next year by a first place finish, and then one more first place finish, so they did alright without him. Were they as good as they were with him? Not quite, except maybe in '99, but they still beat the team he went to.

Wood is probably the best candidate, and he has the "Steely" chops by repeatedly coming back from injury and barking at the Reds player yesterday. Hard to sound too tough, though, when you're walking guys in the 9th inning.